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These blog postings do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the Advisory Council.

30/11/2011

Christmas shopping? Raise money for our campaign at no extra cost to yourself

This winter, we've teamed up with Amazon to allow you to do your Christmas shopping - or any other shopping for that matter - from behind your computer while raising money for a good cause - us!

Under Amazon's "affiliates" scheme, when you shop using Amazon on our recommendation, we get at least 5% of everything you spend, at no extra cost to you - It's Amazon's way of thanking us for encouraging you to use their site.

Just click this link to give us 5% of the cost of your Christmas shopping!

You know how bad the situation in Sri Lanka is, but we are continuing to have success - ramping up the pressure from the international community (following the launch of our campaign on the subject the UK and South Africa pulled out of the notorious "Galle Dialogue" maritime festival) - and will carry on doing so until we have a lasting peace in Sri Lanka based upon justice and human rights.

But times are hard and we really need your support if we are to hold both the sides in the recent civil war to account, and to take on the Government over its persistent rights abuses. We need your help if we are to build on our success, so please do use our link when you come to shop.

Click this link and then use the Amazon website as you normally would.

Many thanks and an (early) happy Christmas,
The Sri Lanka Campaign

Want to give the gift of peace in Sri Lanka? Click here to make a donation in someone's name.

Want to find a gift for someone with a Sri Lankan obsession? At our Amazon store you will find books and DVDs written about the state of Sri Lanka as well as books and DVDs by Sri Lanka Campaign advisers. And we will get 5%+ on everything.

Looking to buy shoes or handbags? Amazon's partner site Javari are even more generous - giving us 15%! Just click here.

Not in the UK? The links above and below will take you to the UK site. You can then go to your home site but we will no longer earn any money if you do so. Not to worry! For your benefit we have now signed up for a number of schemes around the world:

Click here if you live in Canada
Click here if you live in the USA or Australia (or any other country which isn't listed separately)
Click here if you live in Germany
Click here if you live in France
Click here if you live in Spain
Click here if you live in Italy

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25/11/2011

Galle dialogue 2011 - Gota didn't have it all his way

The recent Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice ‘Sink The Seminar’ campaign had a fantastic response from concerned individuals around the world. Over 6,000 messages were sent to the 25 invited Governments via our campaign website. They were demanding that their Governments not whitewash the reputation of Sri Lanka's military for brutality and rights abuses – as documented in the United Nations report of the Secretary-General's panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka.

23 out of the 25 invited Governments attended, with the UK and South Africa pulling out at the 11th hour; whilst Dr W Lawrence S. Prabhakar, Associate Professor Department of Political Science of Madras Christian College Chennai, declined to present a paper on "Non Military Applications in Regional Maritime Domain; Opportunities, Trends and Challenges"; although the Government claimed this was due to reasons beyond his control.

All 25 Governments received a significant number of individual demands to boycott of the seminar. The number of messages sent was as follows:

Australia - 645
UK - 594
Canada - 440
USA - 422
France - 307
India - 285
Bangladesh - 249
Japan - 233
South Africa - 240
Singapore - 222
Malaysia - 202
China - 187
Indonesia - 172
South Korea - 179
UAE - 165
Thailand - 166
Kenya - 158
Russia - 163
Iran - 150
Seychelles - 151
Maldives - 153
Oman - 148
Burma - 139
Qatar - 139
Pakistan - 134

TOTAL 6043

Despite 23 of these countries attending the conference, this campaign has highlighted that Governments can not get away with saying one thing in public and another in private. If they attend what are essentially PR events that seek to legitimise the actions of a Sri Lankan State then we will notice, and we will draw attention to it. We would like to thank our supporters for making that possible.

Want to help us run similar campaigns? Click here to find out how you can support us.

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24/11/2011

Gota tries to muddy the waters

Gotabhaya "Gota" Rajapaksa the Defense Secretary, Presdent's Brother, and arguably most powerful man in Sri Lanka made an extraordinary speech today in which he claimed that the Sri Lankan Government had, as part of its census, conducted a survey into how many people had been killed in the civil war. He also admitted for the first time that human rights abuses may have taken place or, as he put it so artfully, "during the three and a half years of humanitarian operation, the Sri Lankan military had to be expanded at a rapid pace. In the circumstances, it is possible that a few individuals who lack the capacity to withstand the pressures of the warfare with the required composure may have been recruited."

Clearly the Government of Sri Lanka is realising that it's previous line (that no human rights abuses) took place, has lost all credibility. But their new approach is also worthy of incredulity - to claim now that they have identified and named every single missing or dead person is patently absurd.

The Sri Lankan Government does not have a good record when it comes to counting civilians in the north and the east. As the UN Panel of Experts report made clear, they "deliberately and purposefully underestimated the number of civilians who remained in the Vanni", so when the President's brother says the census shows very few people died, does he draw this conclusion by comparison with the "deliberately and purposefully underestimated" figure or the true figure?

As so often with the Rajapaska regime, we have more questions than answers. This only underlines the urgent need for a credible, independent process to uncover what really took place. Until this happens, the best information we have is the UN Panel of Experts' report, which concluded there was credible evidence that "tens of thousands" - even "up to forty thousand" - civilians were killed.

Much like its flawed and discredited Lessons Learned & Reconciliation Commission, this seems to be yet another attempt by the Rajapaska regime to stall for time while it continues to tighten its grip on the country and commit flagrant abuses.

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22/11/2011

A shootout between two MPs - Edward writes for the Huffington Post

On 8 October, in the Kolonnawa district of Sri Lanka's commercial capital, Colombo, Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, minor political party leader an adviser on trade union affairs to the Sri Lankan president, was killed in broad daylight during a shoot-out with a group led by another parliamentarian, Duminda Silva, a Colombo district MP who had worked closely with Gota Rajapaksa.

Our Chair, Edward Mortimer, takes up the story at the Huffington Post (we even made the foreign affairs front page!).

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20/11/2011

Panel of experts report translated into French and Spanish

Here is the executive summary of the United Nations Panel of Experts' report into accountability in Sri Lanka translated into French & Spanish. We believe it is the first time the report has been translated into these languages.

Spanish:

Queridos amigos,

Aquí adjuntamos el Resumen Ejecutivo del Reporte del Panel de Expertos del Secretario General de las Naciones Unidas sobre la rendición de cuentas en Sri Lanka, traducido al español. Creemos que esta es la primera versión traducida de este informe.

Un cordial saludo,

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

Resumen Del Reporte del Panel de Expertos (pdf)

French:

Chers amis,

Vous trouverez ci-dessous le lien du résumé du rapport du Groupe d'experts des Nations-Unies concernant la reddition de comptes au Sri Lanka traduit en français. Nous pensons qu'il s'agit de la première traduction disponible.

Cordialement,

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

Rapport du Groupe d'experts (pdf)

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17/11/2011

The war is over but the fight to sell vegetables and sweep cricket stadiums will continue…

The Government of Sri Lanka announced some weeks ago that it would raise defence spending by over 5% in 2012, allocating 230 billion rupees ($2.1 billion) for 2012, up from 215 billion rupees ($1.92 billion) estimated for 2011. This is almost double the combined expenditure on health and education which constitute only 3.3 % and 2.5% of total spending. Whilst most governments today are shouldering enormous budget deficits in an effort to keep economies from falling into recession, it seems that the Government of Sri Lanka is resorting to the same option – a deficit of over a trillion rupees – in order to keep the army from shrinking. Almost half of the defence budget of 230 billion rupees will be spent on the 200,000-strong Army.

The Government has defended its allocation on the grounds that it has to meet significant instalment payments on military hardware bought to fight the war. However the reality is that it is more about the fact that the Rajapaksas know that their popularity is dependent upon keeping unemployment down - by making the army artificially large - and by militarising the nation. However it may prove a false economy: Sri Lanka's heavily leveraged economy is dependent upon the IMF releasing the next tranche of its US$2.6 billion loan. The IMF made clear at the time of the loan and in a public letter a few months later that the loan program was based on the agreement by the Sri Lankan Government of a considerable reduction in military expenditure. Were the IMF to remember their commitment and renegotiate the remainder of the loan then the Rajapaskas love of the gun could prove disastrously expensive.



Meanwhile strict austerity measures are causing unbearable increases in the cost of living for the Sri Lankan public. We sought out the views of some of them:

“It’s a mixed bag” said one fellow Sri Lankan; let’s call him Mr X. “Colombo is being scrubbed clean and developed; it is beautiful. The army makes it possible; its free labour isn’t it? So what is the problem?”

Mr X was referring to the fact that the Urban Development Authority has been placed under the control of the Defence Ministry. As early as last year, the Militarywas mobilised to evict 75,000 families from their shanty dwellings in the city topave the way for development projects. Mr Y, another educated Colombo resident, confirmed that “a lot of development work is going on but the public have no say”. Only a few days ago it was made known that, due to the indebtedness of the Sri Lankan Cricket Board, the Defence Ministry will take over the maintenance of Sri Lanka’s most prestigious cricket stadiums; the army, navy and air force taking one each into their ‘care’. Cricket fans would, I suppose, take on the sentiments of Mr X and perhaps state that – ‘it’s free labour and a big help to the Cricket Board’. However, Sri Lanka’s main opposition party fears that this latest development is part of a wider trend involving the militarisation of public institutions; with one party member “noting that the army was also selling vegetables and building city infrastructure, he commented that the military was ‘taking over everything’ according to the whims of the country's defence secretary”.

However, Mr X was insistent that although the army maybe larger than ever, without a war to fight, their presence is not really felt by civilians. Could this explain the ‘acceptance’ by Sri Lankan society of the government’s dependence on the military to maintain its rule? He said“You don’t see check points and uniforms around you. But yes it is a dictatorship and until they hold a gun to your head I guess you don’t know.” This echoes the words of John Hay – “The evils of tyranny are rarely seen but by him who resists it”.



Yet for those looking closer, militarisation is evident in many guises and clearly explains the need for more defence spending in post war Sri Lanka. An article in The Economist earlier this year highlighted the numerous new pursuits that the forces in Sri Lanka have taken to: “Soldiers are taking on the civilian middlemen who control the vegetable trade by selling cheap produce, some of it from military farms. The navy has even opened a vegetable shop near one of its biggest camps in Colombo. The army has an air-ticketing agency. It is building roads and bridges, and houses for the internally displaced…The army will even supervise the private companies that collect the rubbish in Colombo…The navy has a canal-boat service in Colombo; it also offers whale-watching tours… retired officers are now posted overseas as ambassadors.”

The Military’s involvement in public ventures is disturbing to say the least; one such example is the Military’s controversial involvement in university life. Conducted by military personnel in camps all over the country, university students have been enrolled into a compulsory ‘Leadership and Positive Attitude Development’ despite petitions and protests against it. The programme focuses on regimentation and unquestioning obedience utilising a module of "national heritage" which exclusively centres on cultural symbols of the Sinhala community. Mr Y also confirmed to me that “there was a compulsory national service scheme introduced to the university curriculum and one girl died after participating. Now they are introducing a community service scheme into the universities which is also organised by the army. A security service also has been introduced into the universities; which is provided by a company wholly owned by the ministry and at 200-300% above the cost of a private security company. All these measures were introduced without any consultation with Inter-University Students Federation or the academic staff.”

Mr Y goes on to explain possible reasons for the size of the Military by stating that “they are being deployed in the north and east, mainly Tamil and Muslim areas in camps, permanent bases and quarters as settlements to alter the demographic pattern. There is a Sinhala Buddhist invasion of these areas led by the army cantonments; temples and statues coming up in all town centres.” The Economist article referenced this deployment: “Restaurants along the highway to Jaffna in the north are mostly army-owned or –run…On the Jaffna Peninsula the army converted a former officers’ mess into a 22-room luxury resort. It runs two hotels elsewhere... In the Vanni district, for example, an area populated mainly by the Tamil minority, where hundreds remain displaced or resettled in shoddy shelters, many administrative measures need a military stamp of approval. The governors of the Northern and Eastern provinces are both retired military commanders.”

Whilst a 200,000 strong army is awarded daily pursuits normally reserved for civilians, unemployment figures are soaring. The whole of Sri Lanka, particularly the North and the East, are forced to endure the Government’s austerity measures whilst facing mass unemployment - a double whammy! These issues are generally unknown to the average Sri Lankan as economic statistics are manipulated to maintain a picture of economic development and prosperity. Don’t get me wrong; the army is worthy of every honour and reward fit for those who endanger their lives to protect civilians. Leaving aside the allegations levelled against the Sri Lankan forces for their part in the human destruction at the end of the war, such reward and recognition is normally given in the form of medals of valour, provision for families and rehabilitation to re-enter into civilian society and ways of life. However the Sri Lankan defence secretary seems to have a different view on this subject. Mr Y believes that “the forces are going to be given pride of place in the public services. Conditions of employment, standards of accommodation and remuneration levels will be increased, especially for officer grades in order to establish a degree of loyalty.”

So now we know why the army must be at full strength; it is preparing to take over every aspect of civilian life and secure the rule of the Rajapaksa regime for the foreseeable future. The only opposition to the increasing militarisation of Sri Lanka can be found in the voices of ordinary citizens such as Mr X and Mr Y – both Sinhalese. It is not brutal force that is our weapon; it is the truth our minds discern and the convictions of our hearts.

Written by a Sri Lankan who has asked to remain anonymous

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15/11/2011

Sri Lanka squirms under torture allegations

The official body of the UN that reviews allegations of torture, the Committee Against Torture (CAT) met this week to discuss Sri Lanka and the Government did not have an easy ride.

It was always going to be tough for Sri Lanka after twelve different organisations submitted detailed reports as to how torture is endemic throughout the island. Most damning of all was Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical foundation)'s report which detailed irrefutable forensic evidence of torture in nearly 200 cases a year - and that is just from those who made it out to the UK. Channel 4 also released a report on Monday backing up the allegations and further ramping up the pressure.



Things did not get any easier once the session started. Committee Expert, Ms. Felice Gaer not only drew attention to the 5,000 disappearances staining Sri Lanka’s human rights record but also exposed a number of secret detention facilities under military control throughout Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan delegation denied the existence of such facilities yet did not suggest any process to substantiate this refutation. Furthermore no charges or investigations were brought against soldiers who faced allegations of rape and sexual violence against women in the aftermath of the civil war, or in Haiti (where Sri Lankan soldiers working as UN peacekeepers ran amok). Committee Expert Mr. Alessio Bruni also discussed how the “rehabilitation camps” were
actually detention camps under military rule, while other witnesses before the committee detailed the harassment of journalists and human rights lawyers.

Despite such detailed allegations levelled at the Government of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan representative and advisor to the Cabinet Mr. Mohan Peiris responded with empty and generalist statements such as the notion that Sri Lanka agreed “110%” with the commitment against torture. Peiris also drew attention to the “Human Rights Action Plan,” a cabinet document which, as this blog has detailed, does not live up to its billing.

Once again, Sri Lanka has evaded explicit and credible allegations of torture with
generalisation and inaction. Yet once again it has been demonstrated to the international community that rights violations are commonplace in Sri Lanka. This would make the returning of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka becomes a violation of international commitments to protect refugees from further abuse. But if, once again, the international community chooses to turn a blind eye to this inconvenient fact then they are going to look increasingly hypocritical and ridiculous as the truth continues to surface.

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11/11/2011

Embattled Sri Lanka tries to stave off war crimes pressure

After last month's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting prompted fresh calls for war crimes investiations, Sri Lanka has ramped up its diplomatic PR drive by announcing the release of a National Plan of Action for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. The only problem is that nobody seems to have seen it.

Minister for Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe announced on 6 October that the Cabinet had adopted a five-year plan addressing issues including the prevention of torture. Sri Lanka pledged to produce the plan in 2008, when the country was reviewed by states under the UN Human Rights Council's peer-review process. Samarasinghe said that all government ministries had been tasked with implementing the plan, which is to take effect immediately.

However, information received by the Sri Lanka Campaign suggests that the Cabinet may have initially rejected the plan and asked for it to be watered down. Attempts by the Campaign to establish its contents or speak to someone who has read it have so far proved unsuccessful. Given that the plan was initially announced by Samarasinghe at the UN in September, why has nobody seen it?

The plan bears the hallmark of a government smokescreen: a grand but hollow announcement aimed at pacifying critics. Over the past 12 months, the Sri Lankan government has repeatedly come under fire, as evidence pointing to war crimes mounts. 2010 saw a a flurry of damaging reports issued by NGOs including the International Crisis Group, Asian Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International. Towards the end of that year, British TV station Channel 4 released footage allegedly showing government soldiers executing civilians in the final months of the civil war. In April 2011, a UN panel of experts called for an independent investigation into these allegations. A month later, Channel 4 screened 'Sri Lanka Killing Fields', a documentary featuring further footage, at the UN. The film was also broadcast on television in the UK, US and India. In August, the UN Secretary-General officially forwarded his panel's report to the Human Rights Council. At the Council's autumn session, Canada belatedly withdrew an attempt to raise concerns over Sri Lanka after it became clear that Council members such as China would block action.

The lead up to October's Commonwealth summit was peppered with lawsuits filed in the US and Australia against the Sri Lankan president and other high-ranking officials. At the summit itself, Canadian Prime Minister Harper reportedly walked out when the Sri Lankan president was invited to speak. Sri Lanka's failure to address war crimes allegations split Commonwealth leaders, with Sri Lanka forced to call on countries like India to ensure that its bid to host the next summit in 2013 was accepted. The Commonwealth had previously postponed this decision in light of the allegations. Harper has said that he would boycott the 2013 meeting if human rights abuses were not investigated.

This sustained pressure has deflated Sri Lanka's post-war arrogance. Earlier this year, it abandoned its ridiculous claim that not a single civilian had died at the hands of the army in 2009. It later released 'Lies Agreed Upon', a crass and often farcical propaganda film that seeks to rebut 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields' (it even mimics its style). It then ended months of prevarication by announcing that its Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) would release its report on 15 November. The Commission has been widely dismissed as partisan and toothless.

The National Plan of Action is the latest move in this PR offensive. According to the BBC, “the government said [the plan] would largely involve setting up committees to monitor implementation of existing laws and to ensure better understanding and respect for civil rights”. The independence of such committees has repeatedly been called into question. Last year, a constitutional amendment gave the president more power over appointments to state commissions, the police and judiciary, easing the deployment of key military personnel to high-level posts. (This is occurring against a backdrop of militarisation, which has seen the armed forces become involved in areas such as development, agriculture, tourism and welfare. The army and navy are even taking over the maintenance of two cricket stadiums.)

Like the LLRC, announced by the government in 2009 as further details of its brutal war conduct emerged, the National Plan is a ruse and a familiar one at that. None of Sri Lanka's plentiful past inquiries and initiatives have produced meaningful outcomes. This is yet another attempt at deflection by an increasingly embattled regime.

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08/11/2011

Sink the Seminar!

Next Monday representatives of 25 of the world's most powerful countries will be wined and dined by Gotabaya Rajapaksa: the president's brother and Sri Lankan defence secretary, arguably the most powerful man in Sri Lanka, a brutal autocrat who has publicly denounced democracy and human rights, and a man against whom the UN has found credible allegations of the most serious types of war crimes; an allegation that is also levelled against the LTTE, their adversary in the conflict.

Click here to send these governments a message that they should not attend.

Governments around the world are attempting to have their cake and eat it: on the one hand they pander to us by making stern pronouncements about war crimes allegations in Sri Lanka, its human rights record, and its downward trajectory, yet on the other it wishes to enjoy the hospitality and fruits of co-operation from those identified by the UN as being most responsible for these war crimes and human rights abuses.

Click here to join our campaign and expose this hypocrisy

The Government of Sri Lanka is attempting, through events such as this (and its earlier conference on “defeating terrorism”) to promote and normalise morally unacceptable and counterproductive attitudes towards security; in the long run this will only weaken and undermine the "maritime stability" this conference seeks to promote. The best way these 25 nations could improve the security of the Indian ocean would be to take a moral stand, and stay away from Gotabaya's cynical PR stunt of a conference.

Click here to send that message to the Governments in question

Gota once dismissed allegations of rape in the north of Sri Lanka out of hand because one particular Tamil nurse - "a person so attractive" - was not raped. The Sri Lankan Navy have been identified by the ICJ as being heavily complicit in war crimes. No government that values democracy and human rights should attend an event like this.

We only have a week to stop the seminar - so please forward this to your friends!

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06/11/2011

On yer bike!

Our campaign director kick started our community fundraising initiative yesterday by cycling the route of the London Marathon. Here is his story.


Yesterday morning, undeterred by a light rain and a heavier hangover. I set out to do my first ever marathon. Running seemed a little beyond me at this stage so I did it on my bike. Unfortunately since I didn't have the foresight to move to a house at the start or finish lines, it ended up being a 40 mile round trip.

viewThe view 20 miles from the start of the marathon, 30 miles from home

I completed the marathon part in 2 hours and 35 minutes, meaning that even on a bicycle I am not as fast as Haile Gebrselassie. Althought, in my defence, the traffic stopped for Haile Gebrselassie and Haile Gebrselassie didn't spend twenty minutes lost in Rotherhithe.

It was a real privilege to be the first person to complete an event for the Sri Lanka campaign. My objective was simply to test the system and show how anybody can set up an event to raise money for Sri Lanka without needing to sacrifice enormous amounts of time and effort. Therefore I was delighted that your generosity and devotion to the cause of peace and justice in Sri Lanka meant that we not only made our original target of £300 but also the revised target of £400. Maybe we can now make £500?

Sterner challenges lie ahead, not least my triathlon in the spring, but every penny raised is greatly appreciated. With the Government of Sri Lanka, the remnants of the LTTE, and the international community all failing to develop the truth, reconciliation and respect for rights necessary for a lasting peace - our work becomes more important than ever.

Are you inspired to answer the call and get involved with community fundraising for Sri Lanka? If so please visit our community fundraising website, and find out how you can join up with like minded people and bake, run, swim, play chess, hold coffee mornings, or climb mount Everest for Sri Lanka.

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